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ALEKS has problems…

You may wonder what all the fuss is about ALEKS math, and why I keep posting updates.

If you’ve never heard of ALEKS, you can get caught up to speed in a few minutes by reading my post here:  ALEKS Math…going, going,  At the time, we were sure ALEKS was expiring (credit “expires” when companies don’t renew or are denied renewal from ACE), but they kept getting short renewals – not in the 2+ year increments you commonly see by healthy companies, but in these short 30 day increments.

Thirty day extensions left a lot of us confused about whether or not our teens could finish in time to get college credit- if they’d receive a regular renewal, or none at all.  Mainly I felt hopeful that whatever paperwork or process that ALEKS needed sorted out, was probably being sorted out, and ACE was giving them the benefit of additional extensions- good faith.  In fact, ALEKS even sent emails to their subscribers indicating things were being worked out.   To read some of the highs and lows, you can read a summary of my comments regarding their extensions here ALEKS follow-up & shut-down.

Every time I post about ALEKS, I’m sure it will be my final post…. but 2 days ago, they received another 30-day extension.  I’m fortunate to have a little birdy at ACE share his bread crumbs with me from time to time, and while he won’t give me 100% confirmation, I’ve had my suspicions about what the hold up was for some time.  Why?  Because ALEKS has loopholes.  Loopholes that everyone else has closed.  Loopholes that resourceful people can’t help but uncover in a short period of time.

What I can say on my own, is that there are a few issues ALEKS probably has to work out if they want their extension to continue after this month.   In other words, if “I” were in hired to identify problems with ALEKS MATH, and come up with solutions, these are the issues I would address immediately:

  • User’s identity / integrity is too weak.  In short, if I signed my cat up for an ALEKS account, there is never a follow-up process to check that my cat is who he says he is. A solution, used by most other ACE-Evaluated programs, is to require a government issued ID (or two) for verification.  The ID can be shown through the webcam to a live proctor.
  • Assessments aren’t proctored.  Like the user identity issue, there is never a verification that the assessment is being taken by the student.  The solution is to require ID verification before every assessment.
  • Assessments aren’t closed book.  The trouble here, is that there are a large number of sophisticated websites which allow you to copy and paste entire math formulas into a box, and the entire solution is generated.  You don’t have to know how to solve a single question on any ALEKS assessment if you can locate one of these websites.  A solution is to use a lock-down browser during all assessments.  This prevents the student from having a tab open that holds a calculator.
  • Assessments aren’t timed.  The trouble with an untimed assessment is that it allows users to complete their initial assessment over a number of days or sessions instead of one session.  Requiring assessments to take place in a single, timed session with a proctor is a common practice for other ACE-Evaluated programs.

Why the big deal over assessments?

Let’s get to the elephant in the room.  If you sign up for ALEKS, your first assessment (untimed, unproctored, open book) determines your starting point for the course.  If you happen to hit over 70% on your first try, you don’t have to take the course- you instantly have received college credit!  Passing one test isn’t unlike other credit by exam options (AP, CLEP, DSST, etc.) but all of those exams are proctored, timed, and have verified your identity.

What if you don’t hit 70%?  ALEKS intends for you to begin the course.  Your assessment gives you the appropriate starting point, and after lots of math, you’ll be issued a new assessment.  But that’s not what you have to do.  

At any point, you simply assign yourself a new assessment and begin again.  There is no waiting period, in fact, there is no criteria for retake at all- you simply push the button and begin.  (AP has a 12 month waiting period, CLEP and DSST have 90 days).

As you can see, the issues with ALEKS math are real.  Even though the thoughtful parents here are supervising and monitoring their teen’s progress, the flaw is in the lack of integrity of the system, not in an individual’s integrity. When the system lacks integrity, fewer schools will allow the credit in transfer.  Fixing these loopholes would help all of us resume earning college credit through this otherwise wonderful math curriculum.